Courage and Goodness

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A friend of mine from elementary school organized a peaceful counter-protest in the event that the litigious, horrifically backwards picketers from Westboro Baptist showed up at today’s interfaith service being held to honor the dead and wounded from Monday’s bombing. They didn’t show, those picketers from Westboro Baptist, and probably never even intended to. But my friend wanted to do the right thing, and – as it turned out – so did many hundreds more. Because most people are fundamentally good. They’re the ones that run not FROM things, but THROUGH them.

The last few days have found me pondering what it is to be courageous. Certainly the first responders fit that bill. The spectators that could, and did, offer medical assistance until the paramedics could arrive. The friend of a friend who started to run away, but then turned around and went right into the fray, comforting a gravely injured girl until help arrived.

When I heard that Westboro Baptist members were planning on showing up, I reacted the way most everyone else did – with outrage. Is nothing sacred?

But to them, to their way of “thinking,” what they’re doing is totally right. They either absolutely believe the utterly poisonous stuff that comes out of their mouths and onto their signs, or they’re all part of some elaborate scheme to come into these places where tragedy has occurred, simply to draw attention to themselves (and to sue anyone who violates their “rights”). Either way, it’s a fiendish way to live – this reveling in and profiting from grief – and they’ve raised their children to believe it’s okay.

Except their children are beginning to realize that it isn’t okay. It isn’t even remotely okay.

Here’s the thing: if you leave Westboro Baptist, you’re on your own. Your parents will not speak to you. Your family will not speak to you. You are persona non grata, and you’re going to hell. Or, at least, this is what I’ve come to understand in reading the interviews with, and stories about, the young adults who have broken ties with Westboro Baptist. They know in their hearts that they’ve done the right thing, but their hearts are breaking nonetheless. Because while you and I see this “church” as monstrous and evil, they see only their parents, their aunts and uncles, their siblings and cousins. There are so many shades of gray for them it’s like navigating through fog. It’s not anything that I can even come close to understanding. My parents and I disagree on many things, but I’ve never been in any danger of their cutting me off because of this. And I can’t fathom being in my early twenties, knowing only one way of thinking, and suddenly having to make my way in a world that encompasses so much more, all the while bearing a last name that’s become synonymous with intolerance and hatred. Cannot even imagine it.

And yet this is what Libby Phelps-Alvarez, Megan Phelps-Roper, and Grace Phelps-Roper are doing. Leaving everything they’ve known and hoping to encounter the kindness and tolerance that they themselves seldom extended. Learning, in essence, the true lessons of Christianity.

Can we call that courageous? The Serenity Prayer is pretty explicit here: (Grant me) the courage to change the things I can. Because they haven’t just run away. They are making the rounds, and they are apologizing. And of course this is what they SHOULD be doing, but you can’t possibly think that this isn’t terrifying for them. With each step they take towards righting their wrongs, they run the risk of being confronted with (at the very least) some real hostility. They’ve been to the Museum of Tolerance, they’re working at the Equality House, they are making efforts to really learn about the people they’ve spent their whole lives condemning.

And as big a cynic as I am, I can’t find it in me to sneer. Because over the last few days, I’ve seen just how good people can be. I have to believe that most people are fundamentally good. I have to believe that people have the courage to change the things they can.
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David Abitbol of Jewlicious with Grace and Megan Phelps-Roper

Running

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Running, and marathons, are big things in my family.  I myself don’t do it; I don’t seem to have been dealt that peculiar hand which compels others in my family to run and run and run.

But I remember being 8 years old, in the seventies, when running became really popular here in the Boston area.  Bill Rodgers was like a rock star to us.  And my dad, a former high school track star, ran every race there was to run.  I remember loading up the car with my mother and sister and going to various points along various routes, handing out little cups of water and wedges of oranges to the runners.

And I remember the first time my dad ran the Boston marathon (he’d done New York and Bermuda as well).  I remember hanging out in Copley Square and trying to find a place where I could see him cross the finish line.  I remember going to find him in the tent in front of Trinity Church, where he sat wrapped in a foil blanket, looking shocked, looking exhausted, looking happier than I’d ever seen him.

I remember taking my sister home after her first marathon.  She zonked right out in the back seat of our car…exhausted, elated.

I understood this, to some degree.  Because while I myself have never had the urge to run and run and run, I understand passion.  And I was proud of my sister and my father for setting a goal, and achieving it, blistered heels, black and blue toenails, and all.  I watched them both cross finish lines having run (to me) an unfathomable distance.

I’m an artsy fartsy type.  I work in a theatre, and have worked there since I was in my early twenties.  “Endurance,” for me, is learning loads of lines and getting up in front of total strangers to recite them.  But I love runners, and always have.  And I love Boston, and always have.

I was just a few blocks away when it happened yesterday.  A group of us sat around my desk and tried to get news and listened to sirens, one after the other, for over two hours.  So many sirens.

An 8 year old boy died.  He was there to see somebody he knew cross that finish line, and he never got to.

This morning, I will get on the subway and I will go to work.  I am not a runner, but I have never wanted to run back into my city the way I want to today.

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